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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 01:57 GMT 02:57 UK
Global plea to raise smoking taxes
Cigarettes for sale in a supermarket
Increasing taxes could save millions of lives
The World Health Organisation and the World Bank are urging nations to follow the UK's example of high taxes on cigarettes.

The two agencies say big increases in the price of cigarettes could prevent millions of lung cancer deaths around the world.

This is the one tax that can help you avoid death

Co-author Prabhat Jha

The Tobacco Control in Developing Countries study, published by World Bank and UN economists, epidemiologists and legal experts, suggests a 10% rise in world cigarette prices could encourage 42 million smokers to kick the habit.

The British American Tobacco company rejects the report and warns increased taxes would lead to a rise in cigarette smuggling.

Healthy tax

The tobacco industry has come under heavy fire from medical experts and public health officials attending the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Chicago.

WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland said moderate action, such as higher tobacco taxes, could ensure tremendous health gains.
Cigarette factory
Tobacco consumption in Britain has dropped sharply

"Governments wishing to halt the rising toll of tobacco-related deaths should strongly consider increases in tobacco taxes as a matter of priority," he said.

The report's co-author Prabhat Jha, said there was an expression that death and taxes are unavoidable.

"We argue that this is the one tax that can help you avoid death," he said.

"There is absolutely clear evidence that higher prices reduce consumption, especially among youth."

Death toll

Mr Jha said consumption in Canada fell by between 50 and 60% when prices were significantly increased in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The study suggests tobacco taxes would be more successful in the developing world as young people, people on low incomes or with lower levels of education are more likely to respond to a price increase.

At the end of the day, smoking is a lifestyle choice

Dave Betteridge, British American Tobacco

WHO estimates that smoking kills more than four million people per year and warns the toll may rise to ten million by 2030 because of surging tobacco use in countries such as China.

In Britain, tobacco consumption has dropped to below 10,000 cigarettes per head in 1995 from just under 15,000 in 1971 as the per pack price went up to more than 2.65 from just under 1.85 in the same period.

The study rejected suggestions that an increase in tobacco taxes could lead to a major loss of jobs.

Popcorn jobs

"As people don't spend money on cigarettes, they will spend money on other goods," said Mr Jha.

"They will buy popcorn, they go to the movies. These generate alternative jobs and also alternative revenues."

Dave Betteridge, spokesman for British American Tobacco in London, said smoking is a lifestyle choice, and raising taxes would simply hit people who wanted to smoke in the pocket.

"It should be for adults only, but provided that you are aware of the health risks - and it is hard to think that there are people who are not aware of these - if you want to smoke then you should be free to smoke."

Mr Betteridge said BAT was not opposed to government regulation, but wanted the tobacco industry to be allowed to take part in discussions on tobacco control.

The BBC's Liz Blunt in Chicago
"There isn't much debate here - everyone is agreed on the dangers of smoking"
See also:

08 Aug 00 | Americas
07 Aug 00 | Americas
02 Aug 00 | Health
14 Jul 00 | Business
14 Jul 00 | Americas
15 Oct 99 | Americas
17 Nov 99 | Europe
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